Service of Process

Service of Process is the delivery of a summons or other legal document to a person or other entity or their registered agent to give them notice of an upcoming legal action. The Secretary of State serves as the Registered Agent for service of process for foreign corporations not authorized to do business in South Carolina. There are also other situations where the Secretary may accept service for other entities. The Secretary of State strongly advises any person serving process to review the statutes listed below as well as any statute governing the entity to be served prior to delivering process to the Secretary of State. The Rules of Civil Procedure for the court where the action is filed must also be followed.

Any process improperly delivered to the Secretary of State will not perfect service on the defendant and will be returned to the plaintiff.  No process will be forwarded until the filing fee is paid as provided in the statute.

 

Contact Us
 
(803) 734-0208
 
SC Secretary of State's Office
1205 Pendleton Street, Suite 525
Columbia, SC  29201
 
To read the statute pertaining to Service of Process:
 
South Carolina Code of Laws Section 15-9-15 et seq.
 
 
Common Terminology

Certificate of Authority: Foreign businesses which qualify to do business in South Carolina may apply for a Certificate of Authority to transact business in South Carolina. When a Certificate of Authority is granted, the business is still considered foreign (as they are organized under the laws of another state or jurisdiction), but they have the authority to transact business in South Carolina.

Complaint: the initial pleading filed by the plaintiff that starts a civil action.

Organizing Documents: the documents filed with the Secretary of State’s Office to incorporate or organize the business entity. For example, a corporation would file Articles of Incorporation, a Limited Liability Company would file Articles of Organization, a Limited Partnership would file a Certificate of Limited Partnership and a Limited Liability Partnership would file an Application for Registration as an LLP.

Registered Agent: the person who is designated and authorized to accept service of process for another person or entity.

Service of Process: the delivery of a writ, summons or other legal process to a person or other entity or their registered agent to give them notice of an upcoming legal action.

Summons: the document that begins the plaintiff’s action and requires the defendant to appear and answer.

Below are some frequently asked questions with answers.  Nothing in this section should be construed as legal advice from the Secretary of State’s Office. It is strongly recommended that any person using these statutory sections review the actual statutory language before attempting to deliver process.  Additionally, the Secretary of State’s Office strongly recommends that you seek the assistance of counsel before making any decisions that may have legal implications.

 

What is the process for serving the Secretary of State?

  1. Notice (Summons and Complaint, other court document being served) must be stamped by the Clerk of Court’s Office in which the document was filed.
  2. Two copies of the Notice must be sent to the Secretary of State’s Office.
  3. You must supply the Secretary of State’s Office with the last known address of the entity to be served or the name and address of the Registered Agent.
  4. You must include a $10 filing fee.

Common Reasons for Rejection

Avoiding the problems below will help ensure that the Secretary of State’s Office can process your summons and complaint in a timely manner:

§         Notice not served to the Secretary of State in duplicate.

§         The original or certified copy of the Notice has not been stamped by the Clerk of Court in the county where the proceeding is to be held.

§         No address has been provided for the entity that the Secretary of State is to serve.

§         The $10 filing fee has not been included.

§         The Secretary of State is not the proper party to serve. Please make sure that you have reviewed the statutory sections and are serving the proper individual.

How and where may the documents be submitted to the South Carolina Secretary of State’s Office?

The documents should be mailed (regular or certified) or sent by UPS/FedEx or hand-delivered (between the hours of 8:30 am and 4:45 pm) to:                  

                     SC Secretary of State's Office                                   
                     Attn: Service of Process Division                      
                     1205 Pendleton Street, Suite 525                                   
                     Columbia, SC 29201

What is the difference between a foreign and domestic company?

A domestic company is one that is organized under the laws of South Carolina. A foreign company is one that is organized under the laws of another state or jurisdiction. A foreign company is not organized under the laws of South Carolina, although they may have a Certificate of Authority to transact business in South Carolina.

What is a Registered Agent and how do I find out who the Registered Agent is? 

A Registered Agent is the person who is designated and authorized to accept service of process for another person, usually a corporation or other business entity. All corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships and limited liability partnerships must file organizing documents with the South Carolina Secretary of State’s Office. These documents are required to include the name of the Registered Agent. The name of the Registered Agent for every business that has filed within South Carolina should be included on the Secretary of State’s Website. 

What do I do if a business does not have a Registered Agent listed on the Secretary of State’s Website and I need to provide that information to the Secretary of State for service of process?

The Secretary of State maintains the most current records on its Website. Sometimes companies fail to update their Registered Agent, and when this occurs the Secretary of State’s Office is unable to maintain current information. If you are unable to find the name and address of the Registered Agent, you may use the last known business address of the entity.

How can I find the address of an entity?

If the entity has registered with the Secretary of State’s Office, the address may have been included on the organizing documents. Copies of the organizing documents are available to the public upon written request. Copies are $1.00 for the first page and $.50 for additional pages. The organizing documents may not have the most up-to-date information on them, as entities are not required to file address changes with the Secretary of State’s Office. Phone directories or the Internet may be able to provide the most up-to-date address information for an entity.

When does the Secretary of State’s Office serve as the Registered Agent?

 The following situations are the only times that the Secretary of State will accept service of process for the following types of entities. If the service does not fall under one of the following situations, the Secretary of State will not perfect service on the individual and will return the documents to the plaintiff.  While every effort has been made to reference all applicable statutory sections, this may not be an exhaustive list.  Additionally, this is only a summary of the statutory sections.  Please refer to the South Carolina Code of Laws before forwarding your documents to the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State’s Office will serve as the Registered Agent in the following situations:

1) A Foreign Corporation not authorized to do business in South Carolina (Section 15-9-245) This is a foreign corporation which does not have a Certificate of Authority to Transact Business in South Carolina.

2) A Foreign Corporation authorized to do business in South Carolina in one of the following situations (this corporation would have a Certificate of Authority):

      Section 33-15-200: If a foreign corporation files a Certificate of Withdrawal, the Secretary of State becomes the Registered Agent for any proceeding based on a cause of action arising during the time it was authorized to transact business in the State.
 
      Section 33-11-107: In a merger, if a foreign corporation is the surviving entity or acquiring corporation of a share exchange, the Secretary of State is appointed the Agent in a proceeding to enforce any obligation or the rights of dissenting shareholders of each domestic corporation to the merger or share exchange.

      Section 33-15-310(e): If the Secretary of State revokes a foreign corporation’s certificate of authority the Secretary of State becomes the Registered Agent in any proceeding based on a cause of action which arose during the time the foreign corporation was authorized to transact business in this State.

3) A Domestic Nonprofit Corporation in the following situation:

      Section 33-31-1707: All domestic nonprofit corporations which were in existence on May 10, 1994 and did not have a Registered Agent on file with the Secretary of State’s Office, had until January 2, 1996 to file notice of a Registered Agent with the Secretary of State’s Office. Those which did not file were considered to have appointed the Secretary of State as the Registered Agent.

4) A Foreign Nonprofit Corporation in the following situations:

      Section 33-31-1707: All foreign nonprofit corporations which were in existence on May 10, 1994 and did not have a Registered Agent on file with the Secretary of State’s Office, had until January 2, 1996 to file notice of a Registered Agent with the Secretary of State’s Office. Those which did not file were considered to have appointed the Secretary of State as the Registered Agent.

      Section 33-31-1106(b): In a merger, if a foreign nonprofit corporation is the surviving entity, the Secretary of State is appointed the Agent in any proceeding brought against it.

      Section 33-31-1520: If a foreign nonprofit corporation files a Certificate of Withdrawal, the Secretary of State becomes the Registered Agent for any proceeding based on a cause of action arising during the time it was authorized to do business in South Carolina.
 
      Section 33-15-1531: If the Secretary of State or Richland County Court of Common Pleas revokes a foreign nonprofit corporation’s Certificate of Authority the Secretary of State becomes the Registered Agent in any proceeding based on a cause of action which arose during the time the foreign corporation was authorized to transact business in the State.

5) A Domestic Limited Liability Company (LLC) in the Following Situation:
 
     Section 33-44-111: If an LLC fails to appoint or maintain an Agent or the agent cannot with reasonable diligence be found, the Secretary of State is an agent of the company upon whom process may be served.

6) A Foreign Limited Liability Company in the Following Situations:
 
      Section 33-44-111: If an LLC fails to appoint or maintain an Agent or the agent cannot with reasonable diligence be found, the Secretary of State is an agent of the company upon whom process may be served.
 
      Section 33-44-906(b): Secretary of State will be the Registered Agent if the surviving entity of a merger is a foreign company and the surviving entity fails to appoint an Agent or the Agent cannot with reasonable diligence be found. This applies to all actions against the surviving foreign entity to enforce an obligation to any party to a merger.
 
      Section 33-44-1007: If a foreign LLC cancels its authority to transact business by filing a Certificate of Cancellation, the Secretary of State still has authority to accept service of process on the company for claims arising out of the transaction of business in this State.

7) A Domestic Limited Partnership in the following situation:
 
      Section 33-42-220: LPs formed before June 27, 1984 had until January 1, 1988 to file a Certificate of Amendment to comply with the requirements of this chapter. If they failed to file an amendment, the Secretary of State is designated as the Registered Agent for service of process.

8) A Foreign Limited Partnership in the following situations:
 
      Section 33-42-1620(4): The Secretary of State will be appointed the Registered Agent if no Agent has been appointed, the Agent’s authority has been revoked or if the Agent cannot be found with reasonable diligence.
 
      Section 33-42-2130: The Secretary of State will be the Registered Agent if the surviving entity of a merger is a foreign company (not partnership) and the surviving entity fails to appoint an Agent or the Agent cannot with reasonable diligence be found. This applies to all actions against the surviving foreign entity to enforce an obligation to any party to a merger.

9) A Foreign Limited Liability Partnership in the following situations:
 
      Section 33-41-1190: If a foreign LLP cancels its Certificate of Authority, the Secretary of State becomes the Registered Agent for service of process.
 
      Section 33-41-1320: The Secretary of State will be the Registered Agent if the surviving entity of a merger is a foreign company (not partnership) and the surviving entity fails to appoint an Agent or the Agent cannot with reasonable diligence be found. This applies to all actions against the surviving foreign entity to enforce an obligation to any party to a merger.

How do I know if the Secretary of State was able to perfect service?

The Secretary of State sends all service of process documents by certified mail. If service is accepted by the Registered Agent or business entity, the certified mail green card will be returned to the Secretary of State’s Office. The Secretary of State's Office will then forward that green card to your attention as proof that service was perfected. If service was refused or not claimed, the Secretary of State’s Office will return the entire service of process packet to your attention to show that service was not perfected.

Who should I serve if the state of South Carolina is a party to the law suit?

Under Rule 4(d)(4) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, when the State is a party, a copy of the summons and complaint should be delivered to the Attorney General. If a statute designates that another official should be served, then the summons and complaint should be delivered to that official and a copy of the summons and complaint should be sent by registered or certified mail to the Attorney General in Columbia, South Carolina.

Who should I serve if a State Officer or Agency is a party to the Suit?

Under Rule 4(d)(5) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, a copy of the summons and complaint should be delivered to the officer or agency and a copy of the summons and complaint should be sent by registered or certified mail to the Attorney General in Columbia, South Carolina.

Is the Secretary of State ever the Registered Agent for a domestic corporation?

No. There are no statutory sections that allow the Secretary of State to accept service on behalf of a domestic corporation, although there are provisions that allow the Secretary of State to accept service on behalf of domestic LLCs.

What do I do if a business does not have a Registered Agent listed on the Secretary of State’s Website and the Secretary of State’s Office is not required to accept service?

The Secretary of State maintains the most current records on its Website. Sometimes companies fail to update their Registered Agent, and when this occurs the Secretary of State’s Office is unable to maintain current information. If you are unable to find the name of the Registered Agent, you may have to attempt service by delivery to an officer or managing or general agent of the entity as stated in Rule 4(d)(3). If you are unable to individually serve one of these people, you may have to petition the court to allow you to serve the secretary of the corporation by certified mail pursuant to Section 15-9-210. It is imperative that you follow the procedure of this statute.

How can I find out the names of the Board of Directors of a corporation?

Again, this information may or may not be on the organizing documents filed with the Secretary of State’s Office. The best way to learn the Board Members’ names is to contact the South Carolina Department of Revenue (DOR). Corporations have to file Annual Income Tax Returns with the DOR which list the names of the Board Members. The names of these Board Members are public information that can be provided by the DOR. DOR can provide the name only. The phone number for the DOR is (803) 896-1730.